coffeepot-shaped lighthouse, known fondly to locals as "Bug Light," or
simply "The Bug," occupies an important niche in lighthouse history as
the first offshore cast-iron caisson lighthouse in the United States.
Despite its tubby appearance, it's a thing of beauty to
the band of plucky preservationists who've saved it from the scrap
Congress appropriated $17,931 on July 15, 1870, for the
establishment of a lighthouse to mark a dangerous shoal off Saquish
Head in Plymouth Bay, on the north side of the main channel to the
harbors of Plymouth, Duxbury, and Kingston.
When the lighthouse was first
built there were no outside decks. (From Stebbins' Illustrated Coast
A local resident named William W. Burgess, Jr. later
described his involvement in the construction of Duxbury Pier
In April '71 they decided to build an iron
lighthouse near the Duxbury Pier on the flats close to the edge of the
channel, and my father and contracted with the Government Inspector to
build it. It was built of iron plates, 10 feet long with flanges on
each to bolt them together and form a circle 28 feet in diameter at the
bottom. This section was put together in North Dock and a cofferdam
built inside of it to float it, and one Sunday we towed it down with
the government schooner and our sloop Rose Wood, placed it in position
then broke in the cofferdam and sunk it. I got $3.00 for my part of the
job, which was looking on.
The lighthouse, 47 feet in height overall, was filled
with concrete to a height of 25 feet. The tower contained three levels
below the lantern, including two levels that served as living quarters.
The lantern held a fifth-order Fresnel lens showing a
fixed white light 35 feet above mean high water, first exhibited on
September 15, 1871. The first keeper was William Atwood, who stayed
To protect the structure, 100 tons of stones were placed
around the base in 1886, and another 175 tons were added in 1890. A
lower gallery and roof were added in 1897. A 700-gallon water cistern
was added in 1900, and a fog bell and striking apparatus were installed
Frank A. Grieder, a Maine native, became keeper in 1930. The
Grieders brought their belongings from Maine to Plymouth in a Model A
Ford, and the keeper's wife and children took up residence in the Rocky
Nook section of the city. In an interview in 2000, Grieder's son, Bill,
remembered his father's days as keeper of "The Bug."
The thing that I used to get a big kick out of was when
it came in foggy. We had a huge brass bell up on the tower, and it
worked like clockwork. You'd wind it up, and it had a big hammer. You'd
wind and wind and all of a sudden it'd go "whammo!" and the whole tower
would shake. You'd lie there at night and wonder, "How am I going to
sleep?" And next thing you know you'd gotten used to it. And when the
fog cleared and they shut the bell off, you woke up.
At low tide you could walk around there and pick up
lobsters and sea clams. Of course if you were out on the flats you
always kept your eye on the tide because it came up quite quickly.
Fred Bohm, later at Deer Island Light in Boston Harbor, was
keeper in the late 1930s into the 1940s. The historian Edward Rowe Snow
claimed that Bohm rescued 90 people from drowning in a single year,
including 36 Girl Scouts.
One windy night Bohm heard a scream for help. He rushed
out to see a woman swimming toward the lighthouse from her capsized
boat. Not able to row to her in time, Bohm dove into the water and swam
to the woman, who was unconscious by the time he reached her. Bohm
brought the woman back to the lighthouse where she gradually came to.
In her struggle to stay afloat she had lost her bathing suit.
As she regained consciousness, the woman's first words
were, "Where are my clothes?" Keeper Bohm answered, "I don't know, but
you're lucky to be alive." Later that night the woman was safely ashore
with borrowed clothes.
In December 1942, Bohm and a companion were heading for the
mainland to pick up provisions, but nearly drowned when their boat
began to leak. A lobsterman rescued the pair, but the keeper lost two
fingers from frostbite.
Coast Guardsman Harry Salter was keeper at "The Bug" in 1944.
He has written a booklet about his time at "The Bug," called simply Bug
Light. Salter was at Duxbury Pier Light when the hurricane of
September 1944 hit, battering the isolated station with 30-foot waves.
He described the scene:
The gigantic waves were hammering this stout little light
station unmercifully. It shook so bad we had trouble keeping the oil
lamps lit... The heavy seas on the east side were striking against the
light, then crashing up under the catwalk and tearing away at our boat
that we had previously lashed high on the davits.
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Salter went out on the deck in an effort to secure the
boat. A wave opened the trap door near him and Salter fell through.
Fortunately another wave drove Salter against the ladder, and he was
able to climb to safety. Salter gave up on saving the boat and watched
the hurricane from inside the tower for the next few hours. He and the
other keepers surveyed the damage later and found that the boat, the
fog bell mechanism, and the outhouse were all gone.
The lighthouse was automated in 1964 and the keepers
were removed. A modern optic replaced the Fresnel lens. Over the next
two decades Duxbury Pier Light fell victim to much vandalism and
seabirds made themselves a home in the interior.
In 1983, the lighthouse was slated by the Coast Guard to
be replaced by a fiberglass tower much like the one that had replaced
Boston Harbor's old Deer Island Lighthouse. The Coast Guard had
estimated that a renovation of the current structure would have cost
$250,000. A group of concerned local residents formed Project Bug Light.
Aided by Congressman Gerry Studds, Senator Edward M.
Kennedy, and State Senator Edward P. Kirby, the group convinced the
Coast Guard to alter their plans. A five-year lease was granted to the
Part of the structure before
U.S. Coast Guard photo
Before the repainting of
the tower's interior in 2001, you could still see the outline of the
kitchen sink on an inside wall.
|The Coast Guard sandblasted and
painted the structure and did some repair work in 1983; the work was
completed in 1985. The Coast Guard spent $100,000 to refurbish the
lower half of the lighthouse. Project Bug Light raised $20,000 from
local businesses, as well as sales of T-shirts and bumper stickers, a
fashion show, baseball games, and raffling a painting. They used this
money to restore the upper parts and the interior, including the
rebuilding of the roof and the catwalk.
At the same time, solar power replaced the older battery system. The
fog signal was also converted to solar power.
In the late 1980s vandals broke into the lantern room, leaving
it susceptible to leaks. The weather deteriorated the wood interior so
much that all the wood had to be removed, leaving bare iron walls.
After a few years Project Bug Light virtually dissolved as an
organization, and the five-year lease expired. In 1993 the Coast Guard
again talked of replacing the lighthouse with a fiberglass pole, or at
least removing the lantern room. This time Dr. Don Muirhead of Duxbury,
an avid sailor, spearheaded a new preservation effort. The Coast Guard
again refurbished the lighthouse in 1996.
Project Bug Light is now responsible for the care of Plymouth
("Gurnet") Light as well, and they have changed the name of the
organization to match the mission. Founder Don Muirhead died in 2000,
but the volunteers of Project
Gurnet & Bug Lights, Inc. continue to do maintenance at
the light and to raise funds toward the continued preservation of "The
In the fall of 2001 Project
Gurnet & Bug Lights, Inc. hired the Campbell Construction
Group of Beverly, Massachusetts for another major renovation of the
Joints in the caisson were repaired by caulking and welding,
and over 1,200 pounds of rust was removed from the lighthouse. All the
paint was removed inside and out, and three new coats of paint were
added. In addition, several inches of guano were removed.
During the 2001 renovation
new restoration effort was mounted in the summer of 2010. Early in the
summer, Project Gurnet and Bug Light restored the windows and doors of
the lower level and rusted railings around the lower gallery. Scott
Day, vice president of Project Gurnet and Bug Light in charge of
building maintenance, said the rest of the work would involve mooring a
large barge near the lighthouse. The entire structure was to be
repainted after the removal of rust and barnacles.“It will give us a
guaranteed life of at least 10 years and maybe a useful life of 15
years,” Day told a reporter.
Duxbury Pier Light remains an active aid to navigation. While
it can be seen distantly from the Plymouth waterfront, it is best
viewed from the harbor cruises and whale watches out of Plymouth.
For more information or to support the maintenance of
Duxbury Pier Light, contact:
& Bug Lights, Inc.
P.O. Box 2167
Duxbury, MA 02331
You can read much more about this lighthouse in the book The
Lighthouses of Massachusetts by Jeremy D'Entremont.
- Keepers: William Atwood (1871-1878); John A.
Richmond Jr. (assistant 1872-1873); Oscar Marsh (assistant 1873-1874);
S. J. Atwood (wife of William) (assistant 1874-1878); George Manter
(1878-1881); Milton Reamy (assistant 1878-1881); Benjamin B. Manter
(1881-1884); Henry H. Sampson (assistant 1881-1882); Edward L. Gorham
(1884-1887); Amasa S. Dyer (1887-1888); James H. Bagnall (1888-1891);
Michael J. Curran (1891-1892); Edwin F. King Jr. (1892-1895); George A.
Jamieson (1895-1897); Mills Gunderson (1897-1902); Joseph F. Woods
(1902-1903); Willis Higgins (1903-1904); George E. Kezer (1904-1909);
George E. Howard (1909-1910); Fred C. Brown (1910-?); Frank Allen Davis
(?-1920); Frank A. Grieder (1930-1934); Fred Bohm (c. 1930s); Homer
Hathaway (1942-1943); Harry Salter (Coast Guard, c. 1944); ? Jovie
(Coast Guard, c. 1943); Ellis Woods (Coast Guard, c. 1943)